Economic ministers against increased state presence in economy-Vedomosti

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MOSCOW, October 3 (RIA Novosti) - Three ministers have spoken against increased state presence in the economy, but experts said they saw no great danger yet in re-nationalization of the economy, a respected Russian business daily said Monday.

According to Vedomosti, Finance Minister Alexei Kudrin said state played an excessive role in the economy, which led to government control over tariffs and breaches of anti-monopoly legislation.

Energy and Industry Minister Viktor Khristenko expressed doubts over the expediency of state-owned natural gas monopoly Gazprom's purchase of 72.7% the Sibneft oil major, controlled by Roman Abramovich, on Wednesday. Khristenko said the deal would affect "the transparency and financial structure" of the gas holding, the paper wrote.

Meanwhile, Economic Development and Trade Minister German Gref described Friday the idea of the state's bigger presence in the economy as "neanderthal" and said it must be buried.

According to the paper, re-nationalization seems to be gaining momentum. Apart from state-owned Rosneft's takeover of the embattled Yukos oil major's assets and Gazprom's purchase of Sibneft shares, Vneshtorgbank, Russia's foreign trade bank, took over Guta-Bank last summer and plans to buy out Russian banks operating abroad with the federal funds.

Unified Energy Systems, Russia's energy giant, plans to buy Silovye Mashiny (Power Machines) from tycoon Vladimir Potanin's Interros holding, and Gazprombank (Gazprom's subsidiary) has set its sights on United Machine-building Plants of Kakha Bendukidze who is now Georgia's economic minister.

Experts, however, said they had no evidence that state-owned companies set back economic development. Rosneft's financial performance and production volumes have been no inferior to private oil majors LUKoil and Surgutneftegaz figures in the past two or three years, said Dmitry Lukashov from Aton Capital, a Moscow-based brokerage. Vedomosti also quoted Valery Nesterov of the Troika Dialog investment company as saying that efficiency of state companies could only be judged in relative terms because they were less transparent.

The paper cited Mikhail Matovnikov from the Interfax rating agency as saying that Russia's state-owned Savings Bank (Sberbank) and Vneshtorgbank were well ahead of the majority of Russian banks in terms of return on assets and capital.

Gazprombank's Sergei Suverov said he saw nothing detrimental in the plans of his company and Unified Energy Systems to obtain assets in engineering, adding that oligarchs would invest more readily if the government provided political guarantees, Vedomosti wrote.

Meanwhile, Kudrin said the increased state share in the economy would undermine competitiveness within the Russian economy. Matovnikov agreed that banks would eventually start crediting only "priority" companies, and oil businesses would have to invest in anything that looked like a good bet, the paper said.

Gref said people and business were the only alternative in this situation. "All the state can do is ensure as much economic freedom as possible for businesses," Vedomosti quoted him as saying.

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